I head out towards the coast via the 128, the same route I took in the dark on my way south. The roads are lovely. Crossing the Mendocino county line reveals a series of perfect, fresh ribbons of asphalt flowing through avenues of craggy trees forming a canopy overhead. The surface is impeccably groomed and properly cambered, the sightlines good, and there are few decreasing radius bends to catch you off guard. It's motorcycling heaven, roads that are as beautiful as they are challenging, without ever feeling treacherous. You can ride fluidly from one corner to the next, punching up to triple digits along the short straights without fear of overreaching your abilities.
It's a flattering experience, one that renews my faith in my skills. Some of the routes I've taken are so erratic and unpredictable that they shook my confidence, forcing me to pick my way through the bends and occasionally overcook into a blind corner whenever I tried to pick up the pace. Not here. This is my kind of road, with a flow that encourages smooth and fast riding rather than pointing and squirting between hair-raising corners with little to no margin for error. It's also less taxing on the mediocre suspension and tires of the Tuono, which have been giving me grief and sapping my confidence on the tighter canyon roads.
My favourite section is through Navarro. In fact I'd say it's one of my favourite stretches of the whole trip. The road flattens through a series of curves snaking through ancient redwoods, the dense canopy shading the route and turning the sunlight into a glimmering blanket of light high overhead. The earthy smell of the forest permeates the air. It's a welcome break from the cut and thrust of riding through traffic for the past few days, a soothing ride through a majestic postcard scene with little to distract me.
I continue back along the Mendocino coast before heading back into the Redwood forests. I take a detour along the Avenue of the Giants, which I missed on my hurried run to the south.
Here is one of the most spectacular scenes I've ever experienced. The scale of these massive sequoias is completely overwhelming, dwarfing me and the road into insignificance. That recurring thought pops into my mind once again - I find it incredibly frustrating that photos are unable to convey the scale of what surrounds me. I snap endless pictures and they all seem worthless, wholly unable to capture the beauty of what I'm experiencing. There isn't much more I can say other than parroting the old trope that the scene is beyond photographing, and warrants a first-hand visit to truly understand how incredible this region is.
It's also frustrating that the landscape is overrun with tourists, a problem I also have with the Rockies. The staggering, epic beauty of the scene is diminished somewhat by busloads of chattering tourists and lines of overladen RVs cluttering up the roads.
Maybe I'm just another one in the crowd, a thought which pisses me off as much as the din of 100 schlubby Midwestern suburbanites obliterating the peaceful calm of the quiet forest. I desire silence and calm, moments alone to take in the scope and scale of what surrounds me. Quiet time to appreciate the beauty and sooth my overactive mind.
A rider coasts by on an overloaded BMW GS. His helmet is off. He is riding one-handed, eating a sandwich as he rolls through the rows of trees, oblivious to the scene. I guess he is just too busy capital-A Adventuring to stop and eat his fucking lunch.
Further along I stop to observe a herd of huge elk resting peacefully in a meadow.
A small crowd has gathered to take pictures. An impatient husband sits in his SUV and honks repeatedly at his wife to get her to hurry up.
The elk remain completely unperturbed.
Sometimes - oftentimes - I really, truly hate people.
But I'm still just another one in the crowd.
I continue along my way across the Oregon border and stop at an overpriced Motel 6 in Gold Beach. The heat is stuck on and the room is sweltering, the paper-thin walls channelling every noise from the surrounding guests.
Try as I might I can't escape from the crowd. But I'm too tired to set up camp tonight and settle in for a sweaty night of fitful sleep.
The next stop is Portland, where I'll be meeting with Sean Smith, a fellow struggling independent moto-journalist (if we are going to romanticize things a bit). Sean has kindly offered me a place to stay and I'm keen to meet up with him and talk shop after months of online correspondence.
The scenery remains beautiful but the glamour of the California coast subsides for more modest surroundings. Logging and fishing communities dot the route, simple places where old tractor tires are appropriate lawn décor. Some are clearly dying communities fading into obscurity, rows of decrepit and boarded up buildings decaying into memories of better times. It's a sad and sobering sight, one that reminds me of the places I frequented in my youth in the Maritimes. Places where things never changed, where the people never left, and the industries never evolved. Places that were quickly left behind by progress.
I take the 101 as far as Tillamook before heading east along the Route 6. It's raining and the road is clogged with trucks and locals creeping along at a dull pace. The route is scenic but the curves too broad to be entertaining at slower speeds, let alone when they are choked with dawdling motorists. It's far less memorable than the squiggly line on the map would have suggested. I resign myself to rolling along on autopilot.
Soon I'm stuck in the thick of traffic entering Portland, quietly stewing in my helmet about my inability to legally lanesplit here. If you want to understand how amazing the privilege is, do it for a while then ride somewhere you can't, spending countless hours staring at the endless gaps and opportunities that surround you that you can't take advantage of while your sweat accumulates inside your gear and your patience drops into negative values.
I make it to Sean's place on time and without getting lost, a minor miracle by my usual standards of navigating without digital aids. Hard to believe that once upon a time we all had to get around with paper maps and vague directions. I've eschewed GPS for years and I still get it wrong more often than not.
Sean is an ex- Hell for Leather contributor who around during the heyday of that site alongside Grant Ray and Wes Siler. They had it good. HFL was once a great source of unfiltered and uncensored opinions and honest reviews, a place where misfits congregated and created wonderful content with minimal corporate meddling.
Shortly after HFL morphed into RideApart whoever was in charge saw dollar signs in a future of advertorial dick sucking and clickbait listicle revenue streams, and the whole utopia promptly went to shit. The zombie RA continues to shamble along in the Gawkerverse. I've tried to make contributions there but they are so far gone that I gave up. Somehow they mistook my writing as newbie friendly, and told me as much. I remain baffled as to how they came to that conclusion.
For the record, from this point onward, I declare that I hate new riders and I intend to do nothing to pander to them. I too was once a dumb, loudmouthed squid who knew better than everyone else and spent countless hours on forums doling out bullshit. I don't care to revisit that period. I expect everyone to learn the ropes the same way I did - through years of experience, many thousands of miles, and way too many harrowing mistakes.
Sean occupies an octane-centric household. His roommate has a Lotus Elise, a KTM 350, and a Ducati Multistrudel, while Sean rides a clapped-out GSXR600 commuter/scratcher. A small fleet of vintage bikes are strewn around the garage in various states of deconstruction.
The stories and discussions become heated. These guys had the time of their life mucking around with test bikes on wild adventures in SoCal, part of the formula that made HFL such a wonderful place for motorcycle enthusiasts with more than half a brain. Sean and his buddies lived the dream of many a blogger, myself included, before HFL went down the tubes.
The next day I head to See See Motor Coffee Co., Sean's current place of employment. See See is a café/custom shop ala Deus but presented in a far more down to earth fashion. They unapologetically cater to Portland's burgeoning hipster scene with a sense of humour that sets them apart from the more serious shops trying to bullshit their way to fame and fortune. It's cheesy and fun, and I have no problem with what they are doing. The fact that Sean bribed me with free coffee, stickers, and a T-shirt have nothing to do with that opinion. Thus I'm obligated to sell out and say that See See is the real deal while places like Deus are pretenders. Not because this T-shirt is really nice, but because it's true.
The custom side of the business is almost totally independent of the café, building machines for private commissions rather than slapping together bikes to sell in the showroom. Thor Drake is the shop's primary hack artist and his work is charming and honest, the back shop filled with an irreverent mix of weird stuff. Here is a guy who reworked a Harley Street 750 into a flat tracker, rode it to events, won some races, and then rode it home. I'd like to see Woolie Whatshisnuts do the same with one of his supposed loss-leader builds.
I idly fantasize about a See See/Deus/Etc wrung watcha brung grudge match at some small-town fairground or road race track.
Someone should make it happen.
In the meantime, I've got more miles to cover on the long road home.